How to make the most of your internship

From where to start to what to do when you're actually there, these tips are vital.

make the most of your internship

Illustration by Becca Allen

The tried and tested route from freshly minted creative graduate to paid junior professional usually involves a pit-stop as a studio intern. to scramble onto the first rung of the creative career ladder, paying your dues on a placement is pretty much a prerequisite – and can involve making copious cups of tea.

But how do you secure that perfect internship, that placement of your dreams that's challenging and inspiring, nurturing and fun in equal measure? And how do you make an impression once you get it?

01. Start close to home

Take advantage of your university's alumni connections. Many creatives send news of internships to their alma mater, so make sure you receive any listings – they might alert you to studios you hadn't previously considered.

02. Make the most of events

Start with your graduation show; forge connections and get your work noticed, and start building your professional network face-to-face.

03. Research formal internship programmes

You don't want to miss relevant application deadlines. Framestore, for example, runs an annual internship scheme that takes place in July and August at its London and Montreal offices. It usually gets about 300 applications for around 20 positions!

04. List your favourite studios

"I can see the benefit of casting the net wider, especially when the fear of being rejected is very real," says Joe Weaver, who secured a job at Cog Design after a placement in 2013, and is now a graphic designer at Masabi.

"However, I'd still stand by the idea that if you target your dream placements with conviction and determination you'll be far more successful than you would be by sending out a hundred poorly thought-out applications."

05. Never compromise

"The companies you admire, whose work really blows your hair back, should be your first priority," adds Bhalla. "But not your only priority. Finding an internship is a lot like dating.

You have to keep an open mind, take some risks and sit through a couple of awkward conversations before you find one that really clicks. It's amazing how important your instinct is – follow it."

06. Tailor your application

Nothing raises a seasoned creative's hackles more than a 'Dear Sir/Madam'. Always write individual emails, and never copy and paste. Find out who you are emailing, and address accordingly.

Take your time to read through an agency's website, familiarise yourself with its clients and get a general feeling for the studio – and you don't need to bend over backwards to attract attention.

07. Keep your portfolio simple

A simple portfolio – either a PDF or website – that sums up your style and character goes a long way, says DesignStudio design director Richard Lyons. "A nicely written email or letter that indicates you've done your research, and above all shows a desire to work with us is all you need.

"I would be instantly sold by a microsite that lists your top five projects, a bit about yourself, your contact details and application intention that is all tailored to DesignStudio."

08. Be aware of your rights

Most creative agencies take their obligations towards interns seriously, and offer at least the national minimum wage. So don't sell yourself short, no matter how tempting. In fact, many agencies feel that offering your services for free sends the wrong message – that your work isn't worth anything.

"I made sure there was a contract before I started," says Sept Putra – a freelance designer who first bagged a job at weareseventeen after a placement there. "My advice is to be crystal clear on the terms of the contract from the beginning."

09. Make the most of your placement

Reputable studios provide mentoring and will be keen to include you as part of the team, but approaching the internship in the right way is crucial. As an intern, you should be willing to get your hands dirty and to throw yourself into every project, from a simple newsletter to a big ad campaign.

10. If at first you don’t succeed, try again

Olly St John interned at three different agencies before starting as an intern at NB Studio, where he then secured his first job. "Over those eight months, I learnt a lot about the sort of work I wanted to do, the size of the studio I wanted to work for, and how to best become a valuable member of a design team," he says.

Remember to stay in touch when you leave, and if you want a job, don't forget to tell people, adds Cog's Smith, concluding: "Don't be a pest, but do be persistent in every communication."

Words: Anna Richardson Taylor

This article originally featured in Computer Arts issue 243.

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